How Trump Provided Fodder for U.S. Adversaries

Both during the campaign and after the election, Donald Trump kept insisting that the United States should have taken Iraq’s oil when we invaded that country. Eventually, Sec. of Defense Mattis was forced to personally assure the country’s leaders that we wouldn’t break international law by following through on that. But threats like that from Trump only reinforce all of the claims that our adversaries make about the United States.

The president once again reinforced those claims at a luncheon with African leaders at the UN this week. In the bubble of Trump’s brain, he probably thought this was some kind of compliment.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday was met with silence when he congratulated the leaders of African countries on the continent’s economic progress, telling them, “I’ve so many friends going to your countries, trying to get rich. I congratulate you.”

Christina Wilke noted that the president paused for a moment after saying that, expecting applause. But “not one attendee clapped.” She explained why.

For centuries, Europeans and Americans have exploited Africa’s natural resources and labor force, not least during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In the post-Colonial era, the U.S. government has supported dozens of authoritarian regimes on the African continent, while American companies have made billions of dollars from deals with dictatorships.

I would imagine that Trump’s remarks were heard similarly around the globe. Except for the part about the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the same thing holds true for our history with countries in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.

Over the course of eight years, Barack Obama worked tirelessly to move our relationships with many of those countries forward in a way that could put that history behind us. His opening of diplomatic ties with Cuba is an example that sent signals about a change in direction all over Latin America. In addition, I found this part of his conversation with Tom Friedman about negotiating the Iran nuclear agreement to be fascinating.

Clearly, [Obama] added, “part of the psychology of Iran is rooted in past experiences, the sense that their country was undermined, that the United States or the West meddled in first their democracy and then in supporting the Shah and then in supporting Iraq and Saddam during that extremely brutal war. So part of what I’ve told my team is we have to distinguish between the ideologically driven, offensive Iran and the defensive Iran that feels vulnerable and sometimes may be reacting because they perceive that as the only way that they can avoid repeats of the past.

All of that progress has now been followed by an ignorant comment from the President of the United States that confirms all of the worst fears about this country’s intentions. Trust is slowly earned and very easily destroyed. That holds true not only for individual relationships, but for international affairs as well. So this represents yet another way that Trump is isolating this country from the rest of the world, while providing fodder for our adversaries.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.